Friday, March 30, 2007

James Carroll's Op-Ed on America in the World

I am reluctant to repost copyrighted material but the following Op-Ed essay by James Carroll is too good to let pass. I saw it in the Boston Globe.

Americans Face a Moral Reckoning
By James Carroll March 26, 2007

YOU HAVE been reading "The Sorrow of War" by Bao Ninh, the classic account of what in Vietnam is called the American war. The title of Bao Ninh's novel captures the feeling of grief and loss that always comes in the wake of violent conflict. Allowing room for fear, grief, and loss must define the dominant experience in Iraq today, where the suffering caused by this American war mounts inexorably.

But sorrow has also emerged as a note of life in the Unites States lately. Many comparisons are drawn between this nation's misadventures in Iraq and Vietnam, but what you are most aware of is the return of a clenched feeling in your chest, a knot of distressed sadness that is tied to your country's reiteration of the tragic error. After the chaotic end of the Vietnam War in 1975, you were like many Americans in thinking with relief that the nation would never know -- or cause -- such sorrow again.

The sorrow is back. Everywhere you go, friends greet one another with a choked acknowledgment of a nearly unspeakable frustration at what unfolds in Iraq. This seems true whether people oppose the war absolutely, or only on pragmatic terms; whether they want US troops out at once, or over time. Even about those distinctions, little remains to be said. Bush's contemptuous carelessness, his inner circle's corrupt enabling, the Pentagon's dependable launching of folly after folly, the Democrats' ineffectual kibitzing, even your heartfelt concern for the troops -- these subjects have exhausted themselves. The "surge" of the January escalation was preceded by the surge of public anguish that resulted in Republican losses in November. That election was a stirring rejection of the administration's purposes in Iraq, a rejection promptly seconded by the Iraq Study Group. But so what? Bush's purposes hold steady, and their poison tide now laps at Iran.

Why should you not be demoralized and depressed? But the sorrow of war goes deeper than the mistaken policies of a stubborn president. Next to Bao Ninh's book on your shelf stands "The Sorrows of Empire" by Chalmers Johnson. That title suggests how far into the bone of your nation the pins of this problem are sunk. In effect, the disastrous American war in Iraq is the text, while America's militarized way of being in the world is the context. Armed power at the service of US economic sway has made a putative enemy of a vast population around the globe, and that enemy's vanguard are the terrorists. Violent opposition to the American agenda increases with each surge from Washington, whatever its character. Both text and context reveal that every dream of empire brings sorrow, obviously so to the victims of imperial violence, but also to the imperial dreamers, whether or not they consciously associate with what is being done in their name.

But the word sorrow implies more than grief and loss. The palpable sadness of a people reluctantly at war can push toward a fuller moral reckoning with the condition of a nation that has made its own economic supremacy an absolute value. To take on the question of an economy advanced with little regard for its sustainability, much less for its justice, implies a move away from the focus on Bush's venality to a broader responsibility. How do the sorrows of war and empire implicate you?

The simplest truth is that the economic system that so benefits you is steadily eroding democracy by transferring the power to shape the future, both within states and among them, to ever smaller elites. At the same time, wealth multiplies and concentrates itself, while impoverishing more and more human beings. Everything from US oil consumption, to global trade structures, to the iron law of cheap labor, to immigration policies, to the psychology of the gated community, to the gated idea of national sovereignty, to the distractions of celebrity culture -- all of this supports what is called the American way of life. Yours. If finally seen to be the source of multiple sorrows at home and abroad, can this way of life prompt a deeper confrontation with its true costs and consequences? You need not reduce social ills to personal morality -- or let Bush off the hook for his wholly owned war -- to acknowledge the complicity attached to mere citizenship in a war-making, imperial nation. In that case, can you measure your sorrow against the word's other meaning, which is contrition?

James Carroll's column appears regularly in the Boston Globe.

© Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Biography of James Carroll at link below. In May 2005, he published House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power, a history of the Pentagon, which the Chicago Tribune called “the first great non-fiction book of the new millennium.”

Monday, March 26, 2007

News Images and Stories

NPR had a story today about a photojournalist Chris Hondros. The first line of the story from the NPR website:

"Chris Hondros has just returned from his ninth tour of Iraq. He's not a soldier. He's an award-winning news photographer for Getty Images."

The NPR story centers on one particularly powerful and painful image that he has brought to the world. War is unimaginably horrible.

The NPR story is at link below. Click on the "Audio Slideshow.

The Getty Images Website, with more photos and blog entries from Chris:

I admire these photos and blog entries - they describe What Is without message, evoking only that which we all carry in every cell in our bodies. Thank you Chris, I am glad you have returned without bodily harm.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge MA

Mount Auburn cemetery was founded in 1831. It was the first large-scale designed landscape open to the public in the United States. Today it is a beautiful place to visit at all times of the year. Great trees and plants, two ponds, rolling landscape, two chapel buildings, a tower with views of the Cambridge and Boston. A quiet place.

On Sunday about noon on March 18 2007 at Mount Auburn cemetery, the snow from Friday's storm was 6-8 inches deep, and glazed with an icy crust. Partly sunny, about 30 degrees with an occasionally brisk and chilly wind. The bare trees showed their forms, such as the corkscrew patterns in this Japanese Fernleaf Maple.
At first I thought it was Forsythia, but my horticulturally savvy partner S set me straight: witch hazel! A splash of yellow against a backdrop of white snow and bare branches. A great native plant that blooms so early.

Witch hazel has a frilly yellow flower with a ruby center. Not captured perfectly in this photo but a delight to see, especially when so little color is evident elsewhere in the landscape. Supposed to be fragrant too, but not on a day as cold as today.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Harvard Square Lanterns and Buds

Below are some scenes from near Harvard Square, March 13-17.
The Chinese New Year celebration began on February 18 in 2007. The 15-day festivities end in a Lantern Festival. Traditionally the Lantern Festival was a time to find love! I photographed this tree decked out in blue lights and hanging lanterns on March 14, in the park known as "Winthrop Park" at the corner of Mt Auburn and JFK Sts (Upstairs On the Square and OM restaurants and Peets Coffee Shop are on this square). Yep, it looked pretty romantic, and after a lavender martini at the funky bar at OM, I expect love could bloom quite readily.

Despite being encased in ice the magnolia blossoms were showing their green for St Patty's day on Saturday March 17. A pre-St Patty's nor'easter storm dumped 5-10 inches of snow on Friday. Signs of Spring were easier to spot before the snow, but I'm keeping a close watch. As I walked down Mass Ave between Harvard and Central Squares the snow didn't seem to dampen enthusiasm for the usual St Patty's day revelry! Lots of funny green clothes and elation.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Current Aht at the 1369 and Beyond

My favorite coffee shop: the 1369 Coffee House, at 757 Mass Ave, Central Square, Cambridge MA near the Cambridge City Hall (with the big tower and distinctive Richardsonian Romanesque architecture). The art at 1369 moves in and out frequently, almost too frequently for the displays I enjoy. But I'm fighting back against this swift current of time by toting my camera and taking the time to pull it out. Currently there are some bold paintings by Sean Boyce on display, such as the one below. I love the vibrant colors that remind me of that experiment with LSD that I never actually did. It's a chromatic fantasy and a visual thrill. Another painting of the inside of a Red Line subway train made it look like a cozy living room. Martha was sitting in the corner and she was quite accommodating for my photographic exercise. I commented how the light in the back of the room didn't do justice to the painting, but how the painting uplifted the corner with its surge of color and light. Wanted to take it home!

I met "Allister" out in front of the 1369. What risks I take to provide interesting content for this blog! Check out those teeth, and her comfortable mode of sitting! She was calm as I captured his beauty for all to savor, seeming to be well-acquainted with the camera. Click on the photo to get up-close-and-personal! I met the owner after originally posting this, and he told me that Allister is a very mellow guy.

Then I came across this photo of Saturn. Yes, even so far away from home planet there are stunning shadows - light plays everywhere, without an artistic director, stage manager, conductor, art director or other aesthetic authority. How incredibly cool it is that we are able to make a camera as sophisticated as the Cassini spacecraft and get it in position to take a photo (composite) of What Is at that locus of space. Original and more info at . Compared to $1Billion/week in Iraq, what a good way to spend a bit of our collective resources.

Photo credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
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Monday, March 12, 2007

Central Square, MIT, Harvard Square; March 2007

Some photos from around Central Square, MIT, and Harvard Square, Cambridge MA.
Early March 2007.

You can't say we don't take Saint Patty's day very seriously here in the Boston area. This countdown started well in advance of the big GREEN day, displayed prominently in the window of a liquor store just outside the Central Square T station.

The MIT Prajnapaya (and others) sponsored the creation of the "Wheel of Life" sand mandala in the Simmons residence hall at MIT. The sand mandala can be viewed at
(this page also features some beautiful chanting by Tenzin Priyadarshi).
Surrounding the sand mandala were beautiful flower and natural object arrangements like the one shown above, by Faxon Green
The mandala was created over a period of about a week by Lobsang Samten, and dismantled in a "dissolution ceremony" on March 10 and poured into the Charles River. Talk about an excercise in letting go!

This very cool bike was spotted chained to a gate near Harvard yard. A famous Kronan bike, very cool, very heavy. Design originates with the Swedish army. I do wish all armies would limit their equipment to bicycles, picnic baskets, musical instruments and the like.

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Saturday, March 3, 2007